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  1. #31
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    I think it is crucial first to recognize what the intention of the photograph is before talking about the importance of a clearly defined subject. If the goal is a successful commercial photograph, then yes, there should be an obvious subject, but it might benefit having a not-so-simple design (of course that is all dependant on the companies brand and so forth). If, however, we are talking about photographs as art then I think it is all very personal, and there are only opinions and preferences about the subject. Though I do think it is important to understand what is meant when something is considered a "subtle photograph".

    Subtly in photographs doesn't always have to mean something without a strong sense of obvious composition. It could be like some of the first "all over" photographs by Frederick Sommer-- the Arizona Landscapes of the 1940's-- which paved the way for many of the "all-over" photographs that followed. Or subtlety could mean Callahan's weeds in the snow, or the weeds against the sky. In terms of color, the early work of Joel Meyerowitz is a prime example of success with the use of a subtle pallet (even though I don't agree, it could be said though that is that due to the available materials he was using at the time). Alternatively, subtlety in photographs could be like Jeff Wall's work where the references from art history that influence and inform the work are usually subtle or obscure.

    One of my favorite photographs at the moment is by Robert Adams of his wife pulling stickers out of their dog's feet. It is plate eight in A Portrait in Landscapes. At first glance, it seems like a simple snapshot. But, when I looked closer and noticed the trees and variation of land near the edges of the frame, I saw that the simplicity of the subject was successful because it was supported by the subtle placements on the edges.

    Personally, I prefer photographs that are subtle-- whether it is in terms of the subject, contrast, composition or pallet. For me, there is something about the photographs that don't beat you over the head that lend themselves to be appreciated more over time.

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    ". . . photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium and letting it do what it does best- describe. And respect for the subject in describing it as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."-- Garry Winogrand

    "Art is just a Series of Natural Gestures."-- John Marin

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  2. #32
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparky View Post
    that's just dumb. i'm not into astrology either.
    I couldn't agree more.

    It is true that if you take many of the "Masterpieces" of art, and apply these mathematical principles, many will exhibit properties of the Golden Mean-- just as do the tonal frequencies on the harmonic scale. But that does not mean that you have something that is any more, or less, beautiful, only something that is un-necessarily substantiated scientifically.

    As HBC said in the introduction to the Decisive Moment, "In applying the Golden Rule the only pair of compasses at the photographers disposal is his own pair of eyes."

    AND

    "I hope we will never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our view finders; and that the Golden Rule will never be etched on our ground glass."

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    ". . . photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium and letting it do what it does best- describe. And respect for the subject in describing it as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."-- Garry Winogrand

    "Art is just a Series of Natural Gestures."-- John Marin

    My Platinum Printing Blog

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  3. #33
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan McIntosh View Post
    Therefore, when a photographer goes out looking for photographs, they are only looking for things in which they already know would make a good photograph. In a way, they are just reinforcing what they already know and possibly only recreating what they have already done.

    If one just goes out seeing what is around them, not letting any rules or past ideas about things influence their vision, they will discover something that is completely new and visually different from that in which they have done in the past.
    This is exactly what Michael A. Smith says when he prefaces what will be taught over the course of the "Vision and Technique Workshop."

    From what I have seen from workshop participants, the ones that were able to let go of their preconceptions are the ones that have started to create really meaningful work. Not because they were given any secrets for composition, but because they picked up something that gave them the confidence to trust their own discoveries and allowed them to work confidently from a more personal place.

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    ". . . photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium and letting it do what it does best- describe. And respect for the subject in describing it as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."-- Garry Winogrand

    "Art is just a Series of Natural Gestures."-- John Marin

    My Platinum Printing Blog

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  4. #34
    Struan Gray's Avatar
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    Richard, it's a pleasure to find another admirer of Sommers' Arizona landscapes. Meatyard's landscapes and zen twigs evoke similar feelings for me, but it's a style that seems to have mostly explored by painters. Sommers' cacti could come straight out of Mondrian's early seascapes, and I have an abiding fascination with 50s all-over abstract painting, particularly the quieter, more spiritual paintings of Mark Tobey.

    In colour, Misrach seems to be the photographer who has most successfully incorporated Cape Light's palette and style into his work.

    I think of it as avoiding 'Lego' colours, although lately Lego have been producing a lot of bricks in an odd secondary spectrum of hues so perhaps I need to find a new name.

    A lot of this sort of subtlety works best in a well-made book, or in private, domestic settings where contemplation and regular re-viewing are more likely. It also is easily destroyed by poor reproduction, or by a change of scale, which is good news for APUG-ers since it argues strongly for ownership of an original work, and not dissemination as an online meme.

  5. #35
    juan's Avatar
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    I'm bothered by the idea that many have (camera club judges, for instance) that a photograph has to have as its subject a physical object - a tree, for instance. I find myself photographing the relationship between things - the spaces, the textures, the reflective values, etc., much of which is lost on a lot of viewers. Oh, well, I'm right and they're wrong.

    Good to see you posting on this topic, Richard.
    juan

  6. #36
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    Thanks Juan. I aggree that some of the idea here are lost on many people, but in the end you can only shrug and find solice in the idea that you are not making pictures for them, but for yourself.

    Saying that you photograph relationships is a great way to sum up your visual instrests. In one of the incarnations of my artist statement I wrote that I am interested in relationships-- not only the visual relationships within the frame, but also the the personal, historical and societal relationships of what is within the frame.

    Struam, I am glad that you mentioned Richard Misrach. Misrach's Brovo 20 was the first book of color photographs I ever purchased. I spent more money than I could afford on it, but there was somehting about the work that screamed at me to buy it. Another color photographery book that is an excelent example of the power of subtle photographs is The Painters Pool by Jem Southam. I couldn't wrap my brain around the work for more than a month, but now I love the book and am exhauseted after every time I look through it.
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    ". . . photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium and letting it do what it does best- describe. And respect for the subject in describing it as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."-- Garry Winogrand

    "Art is just a Series of Natural Gestures."-- John Marin

    My Platinum Printing Blog

    My WEBSITE

  7. #37
    darinwc's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone for your input so far. I hope this thread continues on for a while as i enjoy reading different views.

    "Subtly in photographs doesn't always have to mean something without a strong sense of obvious composition." - Richard Boutwell
    Thanks for mentioning that, Richard. If we take the definition of a strong composition (as in bold, not necessarily good), and take the opposite of the elements, do we get the elements of a subtle composition?
    Strong - Subtle
    Full tonal range - limited tonal range
    Prominant focal point - no focal point or focal point not prominent
    Saturated color - muted color
    definate fore/mid/back-ground - flat / 2-dimentional

    So... I think it will be fun to look at some examples given and consider the composition. Looking at which of these breaks the normal rules and why they are still good artisticly.

  8. #38
    Richard Boutwell's Avatar
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    I looked quickly through my website to see what would be considered subtle under your posted criteria.

    Here are three. I am interested in what people think of the pictures' degrees of subtlety.







    __________________
    www.RichardBoutwell.com
    ". . . photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium and letting it do what it does best- describe. And respect for the subject in describing it as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."-- Garry Winogrand

    "Art is just a Series of Natural Gestures."-- John Marin

    My Platinum Printing Blog

    My WEBSITE

  9. #39

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    Richard, I was just admiring your third picture this morning. I like it.

  10. #40
    Ed Sukach's Avatar
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    It would be simpler IF ....

    I don't think there is any logical (Note 1) way of defining a hard and fast, concrete rule as far as "subtility" is concerened.

    I've been musing over the criteria necessary for defining a "successful" piece of art... and so far the only concensus I've been able to determine is, "It either WORKS, or it doesn't WORK."
    That word, "Work" is really a cop-out ... I think it is difficult to describe just what is meant by that ... but it seems to be understood through a wide area of Art and among Artists.

    I have seen, and produced photographs that "work"... and I can't really limit them to either "Lots of Impact" or "Subtle".
    But then ... I have NO idea of what specific characteristics make something "work", or NOT "work".

    Note 1 ... "Logic"? Is there any place for "logic" in art? Isn't "aesthtic" really an antonym of "logical"?
    Carpe erratum!!

    Ed Sukach, FFP.

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